As Thakur Surjeet Singh lies on his deathbed, he reveals he’s leaving his entire estate, including a map that shows the whereabouts of a hidden family treasure, to his youngest son Raghuveer. This drastic action is taken due to his oldest son, Durjan, becoming involved in the art of black magic. Durjan is none too pleased, and vows to take back what is his by resurrecting a demon god via the sacrifice of an innocent. Seeing as Raguveer has broken the map to the family treasure in half and given them to his two young daughters Aarti and Sapna, Durjan realizes he can kill two birds with one stone. After stabbing Raguveer, Durjan has the girls, but things don’t go as planned as Raguveer makes it home before dying and rouses up a search party. Durjan is captured before being able to do too much damage and is imprisoned in the dungeon where the treasure and the demon god are both buried. Things don’t work out perfectly though, as Sapna runs off into the woods amidst the confusion, and is seemingly lost forever, along with one-half of the treasure map. Raghuveer’s best friend Mansingh takes in Aarti as his own, and also tucks away the half of the map she’s in possession of, in hopes that she can forget about the horrible incident and live a normal life.
Some years later, Aarti has grown up without much trouble, seemingly unaffected by her traumatic experience. She has indeed forgotten all about it, but as Mansingh is dying of old age, he gives Aarti the half of the treasure map and explains everything to her. Also at Mansingh’s bedside is his cousin Shahkal, who after hearing the story decides the treasure must be his. As fate would have it, Sapna turns up looking for work at Shahkal’s hostess bar, and after accidentally killing her while forcing himself upon her, he sees the second-half of the map she’s wearing around her neck. With the entire map at his disposal (and unbeknownst to Aarti and her friends), he suggests going to the location of the dungeon to see if Aarti’s half is enough to find the treasure. Unfortunately for them, Durjan is now an innocent after atoning for his sins all those years trapped in the dungeon, and he’s sacrificed himself to bring the demon god back from the grave.
Tahkhana (or The Dungeon) is a pseudo-sequel to the Ramsay’s breakout hit Purana Mandir, even going so far as to use many of the same actors in similar roles. It works just fine though, as many fans of Bollywood horror consider Purana Mandir the best offering from the genre, and Tahkhana is a mad funhouse of shocks in its own right. Relying heavily on the aesthetics made popular in Spanish gothic horror from the 70s, there’s ample medieval-style set pieces to chew on, and lots of colorful lighting techniques; why a dingy dungeon is lit in psychedelic blues and purples is anyone’s guess, but it sure looks nice! Heavy use of fog sets up a nice mood, as does the Goblin-inspired soundtrack, but the film is never particularly scary; it’s more fun than anything else, but that’s certainly far from being a bad thing.
As is a staple in most Bollywood horror flicks, there has to be some heavy action scenes included, and what’s found in Tahkhana is especially entertaining. This is mostly thanks to strongman Hemant Birje, who at least here appears to be India’s answer to Rambo, who tosses unsuspecting saps around like ragdolls; it’s equally hilarious and exhilarating to watch. I love over-the-top, unbelievable fight sequences in this style of film, and thanks to Mr. Birje, I got them in spades. You really haven’t lived until you see a man single-handedly hold back a runaway giant boulder in a narrow dungeon corridor. Yeah Indy, running is for pussies!
The hulking abomination of a monster on display is anything but convincing, but the creature fits in perfectly with the gonzo, unbelievable world the Ramsay’s have created. It moves around with the speed of a sloth, yet seems to always be around the next corner, giving Jason and his buddies a serious run for their money. As slow as the monster may stalk, the pace of Tahkhana moves rather quickly, a stark contrast to many of its ilk. Sure, there’s some inconsequential padding tossed into the mix, but it’s almost always amusing, thanks to a cast of characters that are diverse and interesting. It’s also worth noting that the majority of the comedy present actually hits home; that isn’t to say it isn’t goofy and inappropriate as all hell though. When a chef catches Shahkal attempting to rape his sister, instead of seeing any seriousness, we’re served up with some odd slapstick humor to deal with the situation.
Lastly, it wouldn’t be a Bollywood film without some singing and dancing, and Tahkhana is no exception. Thankfully, there’s only two musical numbers to endure, and surprisingly one of them actually makes sense in the story’s context. The gang attends a party and gets pretty damn high knocking back hemp juice. If there’s any excuse to break out in random singing and dancing, it’s when you’re out of your mind on drugs.
Tahkhana pretty much goes right down the B-movie checklist, including an ancient evil, a hairy monster, haunted houses and crypts, greed, and a grand cast of characters and presents them all in a charming fashion that’s a sheer blast. Definitely some of the most fun I’ve had yet in my travels down the roads of Bollywood horror.
Tahkhana is the secondary feature in Mondo Macabro’s Bollywood Horror Collection Vol. 3, along with Mahakaal which is the featured film. Both films are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratios and remastered from the best quality prints that could be found. Both actually look quite good, and while they’re interlaced and have some instances of print damage and minor ghosting, they’re colorful and have a nice vibrancy to them. Both films come in their native language with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. There’s some hiss and distortion on both, and occasionally the higher-pitched sounds can be quite shrill, but overall all of the dialogue is clear and none of the problems are overwhelming. The included English subtitles are pretty much free of errors and get the job done nicely.
The main extra included in the collection is a 25 minute documentary on the films of Bollywood and Lollywood, respectively. Omar Khan (who directed the very fun Hell’s Ground, Mondo Macabro’s first original production) gives us the basics on what differentiates them, and why certain elements are always presented in the way they are (such as the odd notion that horror must always be mixed with comedy). There are some other speakers in the piece, as well as some clips from other films (I need to find that action film where a man is killed with a giant syringe!), and is altogether very entertaining and informative. Rounding out the extras are text-based pieces on both films which provide information about the productions as well as the cast and crew, and the ever-expanding Mondo Macabro trailer reel.
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